Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Rugby aces in tribute to tragic Bears fly-half

THE rugby world has been paying tribute to Simon Priestley, who died while playing for the Henley Bears.

The fly-half collapsed during Henley Rugby Club’s fourth team’s game against High Wycombe on January 6 and was later pronounced dead.

Hundreds of people attended a commemoration service at St Mary’s Church in Henley last week while dozens of other clubs have also marked his passing on social media, together with former international players Will Greenwood and Brian O’Driscoll.

Greenwood, a former England centre and world cup winner, posted a picture of Simon with a pint in hand to go with his tribute, which said: “Sending love to my friends at Henley Rugby Club who are dealing with the tragedy of losing Simon Priestley.

“I met Priesters a few times. Wonderful man and one of the fittest 46- year-olds I have ever seen. Makes his sudden passing all the more difficult to process. My heartfelt condolences go to all his family. The rugby family has lost a great man and a brother. Rest in peace, Simon Priestley.”

Nick Trower, one of Simon’s teammates, tweeted O’Driscoll to see if he would provide a message as the former Ireland and British Lions centre was his favourite player.

He sent him a photograph of the pair of them with the player in Paris when they went to watch his club side Leinster against French outfit Racing 92 seven years ago.

Another picture showed Simon wearing a shirt, saying: “Always be yourself unless you can be Brian O’Driscoll, then always be Brian O’Driscoll.”

Nick said: “Simon played like him and there was that Irish connection.”

In response, 39-year-old O’Driscoll wrote in the programme for the Henley Hawks’ home match against Tonbridge Juddians on January 13.

He said: “It is an honour to be part of the tribute to Simon. Thinking of you all at this tragic time. May he rest in peace. BOD.” This match was used to pay tribute to Simon and his wife Julie and their children, Amelia, 11, and Jonty, nine, were presented with his shirt.

Prior to the presentation a guard of honour was formed and Simon’s friends and former team-mates locked arms during a minute’s silence while they paid their respects.

England Rugby chief executive Steve Brown, who lives in Henley, was at the match and head coach Eddie Jones called him to pass on his condolences on behalf of the national side.

Nick said: “Simon had met English scrum coach Neal Hatley and he sent a nice message saying the team’s thoughts were with us.”

Rob Heginbotham, team manager for the Bears, said he wasn’t surprised at the way the rugby world had rallied around the club.

“Rugby is a big family and we pull together in times like these,” he said. “It’s very much what you would expect from clubs like ours all over the country. It speaks for itself.”

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